Hi, I’m Preet Anand. I lead Safety products at Lyft and I’m the President and co-owner of Snug, a friendly daily check-in service for people living alone. This might sound weird, but my life mantra is ‘perpetuating free will’. What that means to me is that I want the consequence of my work to be that people have more choices in their lives and can experience more freedom. This usually comes from the removal of risks but also by creating new products for unmet needs. And to be specific, when I say more choices, I want this to be more choices for lots of people - not just the wealthy.
Snug’s main customer base are seniors who are living alone (there are more than 20M in the USA), but we also have diabetics, those with recent mobility challenges, and other people living independently. Snug checks in on you every morning and reminds you to check-in at your selected daily check-in time. If you check in with the app, you get a positive quote of the day. If you don’t and are unresponsive after multiple reminders, your emergency contacts will be alerted with your location and authorities will be alerted to conduct a wellness check. We recently crossed 250,000 check-ins!
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I was born in a small desert town of El Centro, 11 miles from the Mexican Border. With my parents as successful immigrants, I’ve always appreciated the power of ingenuity and hard work. But also being a fan of history, I realize how privileged my position is so I’ve been very determined to make the most of it and have the most impact possible.
From middle school on, I never imagined not going into business. It seemed like the rational way to bring something new to the world, help people, and get rewarded for it.
My first real entrepreneurial attempt was my senior thesis project in high school where I tried to put gyms into airports - this was after 9/11 and the wait times at airports were quite long. I thought this was an unused time that could go towards fitness and reduce obesity. Talking to prospective customers though (you’ll notice this theme a lot), I realized that wait times had quickened a lot and that no one would want to get sweaty before getting on planes. Onto the next!
I went to school at Santa Clara University because I wanted to be in silicon valley. I intended to be in business, but I thought engineering would be a better educational experience where I’d learn more so I transferred into that program. While in orientation is where I learned the startling statistics about sexual assault that ended up being my driving force to start my first company. While still in school, I ended up leading a student project called the Solar Decathlon, getting 3rd place in the world for a green prefab home competition where we built the home, shipped across the country, and had thousands of people tour it.
If Solyndra wasn’t taking the cleantech industry with it when I was graduating, I would have had a very different life path. However, Solyndra was destroying the cleantech industry so getting employment there wasn’t an option. I ended up working as a Product Manager at Zynga (the company that made Words with Friends and Farmville) because I thought it would be a great way to acquire skills on how to do business at a fast pace. That definitely became true!
Zynga was a great learning experience in analytical product development. I got to be part of the company going public, grew my career, and met a lot of good people. I even got to do some good by being part of the effort to provide relief funds to Japan after the Tsunami. Zynga was the first company to give more than $1M in aid.
Games though ultimately weren’t for me. I needed to be making a more tangible impact on helping people’s lives. I wanted to give people more choices and that’s where that sexual assault statistic I learned about in orientation came in. I felt that if I could make even a tiny dent into the % of people that experience sexual assault, that would be a very meaningful shift for their lives and the lives of others they interact with. So, this motivated me starting my company BlueLight (ultimately renamed Patronus). We were leveraging the power of the smartphone to get people to help faster and more discreetly. We started first on college campuses where campus police aren’t on the 911 network, so they don’t get the same information in an emergency. But we ultimately ended up even improving how regular 911 calls work that was originated from our apps.
We ultimately ended up selling Patronus to RapidSOS because they could carry our mission on. They now power emergency calling for Apple, many Android phones, and Uber. I can proudly say that our work has helped people stay alive every single day. And that holds true onto the work I do at Lyft.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
Snug was inspired by Jan. She was using our smart emergency calling app, Patronus. Jan is an active and independent retiree who lives alone. But, Jan isn’t your typical retiree. She walked 6 miles a day, has walked in all 50 states and even led her own walking group in The Villages in Florida. She’s also a tech whiz who has an iPhone, Apple Watch, and even teaches classes so other retirees can learn how to better use their smartphones.
Although she’s in excellent spirits, Jan has a heart condition and previously had a seizure while sleeping, so she worried about what would happen in a medical emergency. She may not be able to call for help if something happened, and people might not know for multiple days. It could be too late by the time help arrived.
So, Jan went looking for a solution. She considered a medical alert bracelet like Life Alert but didn’t like what she saw:
- The Life Alert pendants are ugly and would make her look old. Plus, they didn’t seem to use her iPhone at all and were based on old technology.
- They were really expensive ($50/month!)
- She is very active and independent, and hates the language Life Alert uses: ‘Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up’ is insulting!
Jan decided to take things into her own hands and contacted me, when I was the CEO of Patronus, talking about her specific need. She said Patronus helped her a lot if she knew to call for help, but what if something happened in her sleep? Was there something that could help if she didn’t respond? Could we build this into the Patronus app? This got my wheels turning.
It was clear to me this was a completely different value proposition than Patronus, so we should think of it as something completely new. Within a week we shared with her some designs (thanks Balsamiq!) for a new service specifically designed to solve this problem.
Jan was elated and gave her feedback. We kept working on it for a couple of weeks and then got Jan’s local Apple User Group to help test it.
The testing with the local Apple User Group went great:
- 93% of the retirees who tested Snug felt more secure.
- 90% said they would recommend Snug to others.
Now, with Jan’s inspiration, Snug is available to help anyone living alone feel safer.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Now, after Jan’s inspiration, Snug has crossed 250,000 check-ins. The service is profitable and growing quicker and quicker.
Growing the service is our key priority. Our customers make it clear to us (just read our reviews on Trustpilot) that it’s giving them great peace of mind and we want to help others experience that. There are two key efforts we will be working on to make an impact here. The first is building out our referrals system because Snug has such good word of mouth. The second is investing more in Snug’s content and tools so that we can improve our search position and demonstrate our credibility to prospective customers.
Ultimately we want one million people living alone to feel more secure and joyful every day with Snug. If they need help, Snug will help them get the right help for them and ensure that their contacts have all the critical information (location, lockbox, video, insurance info, DNR) they need to provide an effective response.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Talking to customers always helps us be better. I know this is basic and obvious, but wow does it always pay off. For example, it reminds us of how different device types affect the legibility of the quote, which is a big part of the daily experience. Every conversation inspires us about the business we are building and routinely we come out with a sharpened, actionable insight or a valuable question we hadn’t realized.
As a very specific example of this, it was talking to our customers that made us significantly change our marketing strategy. It kept coming up in conversations that a lot of people were adopting Snug after they had had a significant change in their life. They had lost a loved one, separated, moved to a new area, been diagnosed with a new medical condition, got a dog, or some other significant change. What we realized was that these folks were adopting Snug because of a change in their life, not because necessarily Snug had marketed to them. This made it clear to us that our marketing strategy couldn’t be push oriented but had to be pull oriented. When customers had a need, we needed to be easily accessible and top of mind and that’s when they would adopt the service. This led to us dropping outward advertising and instead focusing on SEO so we would show up when customers were searching to fulfill their needs.
Another lesson is that for a product or service entering a space that’s already quite saturated, it’s very important to survey the landscape for two different reasons: 1) segmenting the market to understand where you can easily differentiate 2) understanding the market to understand relationships between players.We are still early in this journey ourselves, but at first the “medical alert” category would seem to be very competitive. However, getting closer to it, we have learned that 95% of the addressable market doesn’t use the current systems because they are considered clunky and demeaning. So, we would only be competing for head-on for a segment that was 5% of the market, the other 95% the competitor is non-consumption.
In Snug’s case, and I think this is also true for other Life Infrastructure, there’s two different ways that lead to a new customer. The first is an extreme need. Something is so broken for this set of people that they really urgently need what you are offering and they will beat a path to your door to get it. The second is a strong referral. The customer has a need and someone who knows them has so strongly recommended something that it’s now urgent for the customer to at least give it a try.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
For analytics, we use Amplitude, which provides great dashboarding and good data taxonomy for analysis.
For communication, we use Slack principally.
For communicating with our customers, we use Mailchimp.
For Customer Support we use Helpscout.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Poor Charlie’s Almanack by Charlie Munger. If I had to pick a single book, not just business book, this would be it. For those who don’t know, Charlie Munger is Warren Buffett’s right-hand man and business partner. This book is a biography and compilation of his talks. What makes it so incredible is that it will give you new tools and frameworks for how to make decisions. And the decisions we make ultimately lead us to our overall outcomes. So, making better decisions means better outcomes. This book helps with that! One example, of SO MANY, is the concept of inversion. Charlie says that the algebraist Jacobi once said: “Tell me where I will die so I don’t go there.” The concept is that by taking something negative and then inverting it, you can find positive action. If you know poor customer support will lead to your customers leaving, then getting your customers to stay likely includes having great customer support.
Zero to one by Peter Thiel is great as well. It has some great business advice, but like Charlie’s books, the beauty of it is that it introduces very differentiated thinking into your life. This novelty of thinking is what usually drives novelty of strategy.
I really like the podcast Acquired by Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal. It’s a great way to learn about the backstories around certain companies and also bring a strategic lens to business thinking.
This article by the CEO of Superhuman on how to iterate on your product was really helpful: How Superhuman Built an Engine to Find Product/Market Fit
Lastly, I just finished The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. It tells the story of how the simple idea of a checklist can make such a big difference in outcomes (such as cutting surgery infection rates in half). It’s inspiring me to create checklists to ensure rigor in the new year.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
First, I’d tell you to make sure you read this post from Paul Graham as so much of it has worth outside of Tech.
Really, truly spend time with your customers. It’s easy to do it when you are first debating getting started or not, but it’s the ongoing practice that will yield you the most gems and breakthrough insights. This is what Jeff Bezos means when he talks about being customer-obsessed.
My sweet spot is working on products where there’s a real chance of risk and that if something goes wrong, someone can be hurt. People often say that something is “too risky” or “impossible”. When someone says that about an idea, really sit with it and ask yourself why. Break the problem down. Sometimes those people are totally right. But a lot of times, there’s an assumption in there that may not necessarily be true. And that assumption is your opportunity to prove the world wrong.
If you’re building life infrastructure, here’s four things I’d suggest you do. They may be applicable to other types of services as well.
- When you’re building your product, don’t just go for minimum viable. Go for the minimum reliable product. You want to think through reliability at multiple levels and ensure your customers have a failsafe in case something doesn’t work. Once you have designed for this, you will have capped your downside and can put your attention to differentiation and delight. Not only that though, but this is also key to earning customer trust. Notice how much messaging and attention the Instant Pot has towards safety.
- Provide great support and talk to your customers. This earns you trust when something goes wrong, but it also will give you the opportunity to learn holistically about your customer’s needs and how you are delivering on them. Data only gives you isolated bits of the story, whereas a customer conversation gives you a way to connect those points.
- Define your unique, north star metric of success. For Snug, it’s successful, safe check-ins. This is what tells us we are delivering against our mission. Revenue, new users, etc, are other ways as well, but those are proxies for customer value. Pick a metric that specifically captures the way your product or service is delivering value. For example, to use the Instant Pot analogy again, it would be # of pressure cooked meals.
- Pick the right wedge to go to the market. “Life Infrastructure” are the types of products and services where you are clearly fulfilling a fundamental need, like food or safety. Your prospective customers are already going to be trying to meet this need. So, the risk isn’t if there’s a market - it’s what the right way to enter the market is. This is why it’s so important to pick the right value proposition and go to market strategy to wedge your way into the market and get an expansion foothold.
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